These Are the Dirtiest Surfaces Inside an Airplane

Nov 1, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

You already know you need to carry extra hand-sanitizer when going through airport security check points because those plastic bins are crawling with bacteria, but the germs don’t stop there.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Marketplace investigators took 18 short-haul flights at various times throughout the day between Ottawa and Montreal on Canada’s major carriers: Air Canada, WestJet and Porter, and they collected 100 samples from inside the planes.

The staff swabbed seatbelts, tray tables, headrests, seat pockets and restroom handles and found bacteria and other harmful pathogens like yeast, mold and E. coli across all surfaces. The dirtiest surface? Headrests. Followed by the seat pockets. Seat pockets are home to left behind belongings like used tampons, condoms, dirty diapers, and half eaten sandwiches, flight attendants told CBC.

Microbiologist Keith Warriner tested the samples at a lab at the University of Guelph and said that nearly half of the surfaces swabbed contained levels of bacteria or yeast and mold that could put a person at risk for infection, like strep throat. Warriner suggested that the presence of yeast and mold is because the surfaces are not cleaned well or often.

And sure enough, more than a dozen former flight attendants and customer service representatives told Marketplace about their experiences working on airplanes and said there is not enough time to properly disinfect an entire aircraft. One former WestJet employee, Stéphane Poirier, said the staff typically has less than 15 minutes to ready the plane. Additionally, Poirier also said that cleaning solutions are often not allowed on board.

While headrests may carry the most bacteria, don’t resort to putting your head down on the tray table. Another microbiologist, Jason Tetro, said that the levels of staph and mold Marketplace found on tray tables is evidence that the surface hasn’t been cleaned in quite a while. Tetro explained that the kind of staph lingering on the tray tables may cause skin and soft-tissue infections, such as boils.
These results are disgusting, and unsurprising. Planes are dirty, but that’s not going to prevent you from traveling. TSA allows disinfecting wipes, so definitely pack those on your next trip to rid your seat of germs.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.